Looking for Team Happiness? R+R+R… and Cupcakes

Looking for Team Happiness? R+R+R… and Cupcakes

By Clay Baznik, Executive Director of Marketing & Creative Media Services

The creative team at ض revealed why they work so well together in a . As it turned out, the magic formula for teamwork required more than strange grapes, oddly flavored potato chips, cupcakes, and the rest of the carbs we cram onto a file cabinet that’s conveniently buffet height.

Their take on things got me thinking about how we reached our current relatively happy place and whether it was possible to convey that briefly. The answer came quickly:  R+R+R = Happy Team.

Luckily, this isn’t Twitter, so I can explain the three Rs of a happy and engaged team. Perhaps you can apply them to your team.


If you’re not over-the-moon excited about a candidate, don’t hire that person.

Remember that sentence, and you’ll be more successful in hiring great candidates.

It sounds overly simple—until you try it. Following this principle involves a lot more discipline than you would think.

A small lingering doubt? Something the candidate said that just didn’t feel quite right? When you identify an issue but like a lot of things about the candidate, it’s tempting to take a chance that you can fix the problem, right?

Wrong. Run away from the candidate as fast as you can.

Why don’t we run when we know we should? The recruiting process can be downright draining. You’ve posted the job, worked your network, conducted rounds of interviews, and come up empty. During the second—or even third—try, you might be tempted to lower your standards a bit.

Don’t. Don’t give in. If you give in now, you’ll pay for it later. Worse, that new problem employee can cause headaches for your entire team.

Bonus recruiting tips:

  • Approach candidates instead of waiting for them to apply. You can reach out to the best matches by conducting a LinkedIn search if you have a recruiter subscription
  • Candidates’ diligence matters—gold stars for the engaged note taker and thank-you note writer.
  • Give another gold star for those who know how to have a conversation, not just a Q&A session
  • During the interview, ask for specific examples of the behavior or experience you’re seeking.
  • Another reason to give gold stars: candidates who ask a lot of questions and still have one left when you wind up the interview by asking if they have any questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to test for a specific skill the role requires.
  • Candidates who have done their homework—on the company, the job, or even you—get more gold stars.

team happiness cupcakes


Retention, and its cousin engagement, are hot topics in HR circles.

Our team’s retention and engagement is good, and one of the ways we keep it that way is by helping team members focus on what they find most satisfying about their roles.

All of us are fulfilled and energized by some aspects of our jobs and less-than-excited about other parts of them. One path to increased engagement is finding ways for staff to do more of what they love the most and less of what they don’t.

Marcus Buckingham, founder and CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Company, refers to these energizing activities as strengths. He advises playing to people’s strengths rather than spending the majority of your time trying to fix weaknesses works, and that works really well for us.

That topic alone is weighty enough for its own post. Find out more at or read his book  First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently.

Let me offer a deep and sincere apology to HR and finance directors everywhere for what I’m about to say. Compensation is extremely important, so don’t play games with the candidate you want. Make your best offer out of the gate. It should be at least market value, ideally higher to attract top talent.

Those more focused on the financial side of things may tell you to start low so you can give in to a counter offer from the candidate. But what if that counter offer never comes? You’ll save a few bucks on that candidates’ salary, but an underpaid high performer may break for the nearest exit when an opportunity arises.

On a related note, when pay-raise season rolls around, put on your fightin’ pants and work to get higher than “normal” increases for high performers. Financial realities may dictate cost-of-living increases only, but you can still put up a fight. The egalitarian approach—giving equal cost-of-living percentage increases to all staff, regardless of their efforts—fosters disengagement. When you fight to reward your higher performers, you may not win, but at least you went to bat for your staff.

Bonus retention tips:

  • Break away from defined job descriptions that box staff into 10 bullet points. Flexibility is the key to allowing staff to grow and spend more time doing the things they love.
  • Recognize high performers via bonuses. Large or small, bonuses are valued.
  • Set up a recognition program in which your team members nominate one other for awards in certain categories. Winners could receive a day off, a gift card, or some other reward.
  • Flexible works hours and the opportunity to work from home are no longer a perk; they’re a requirement. The market expects this, so please offer it.
  • Hire and train managers who walk the walk when it comes to genuinely caring about the health and wellbeing of staff.  


Almost everyone would agree that letting members of a team go is the most difficult piece of the people puzzle, but sometimes the hardest things provide the most return. The worst move a manager can make is keeping an underperforming team member.

We all have good intentions. We want to see someone improve, we feel badly on a personal level when we need to let someone go. However, ignoring underperformers doesn’t serve anyone well.  High performers are motivated by working around other high performers and become frustrated and demotivated when dragged down by low performers. Even the underperformer suffers, because holding a position that isn’t a good fit is unsatisfying and potentially stressful.  

Netflix’s approach to releasing employees is done respectfully and with a generous severance package. There’s a about the company’s organizational culture that’s worth a view if you haven’t seen it. You may not be able to duplicate Netflix’s severance packages, but respect doesn’t cost a lot and goes a long way toward making the experience less difficult for the employee and the team.

Bonus respectful release tips:

  • Be open and honest about the issues.
  • Offer to write a letter of recommendation, if appropriate.
  • Offer to watch your network for job opportunities that may be a better fit.
  • Allow the employee to have input into the process, such as when and how the announcement will be made to staff.
  • Work with the employee to carefully plan the necessary transfer of knowledge.
  • Be flexible regarding how many days they will work before their last day and how much time they spend in the office vs. working remotely.
  • Consider providing a softer transition. If there is a project or very specific tasks that play to the employees strengths, allow them to work on that off-site for a period of time while they search for new opportunities.

One more bonus tip, even though it doesn’t fit into the R+R+R formula: Never underestimate the joy your team will experience when they see a bunch of elaborate food-truck cupcakes on the file cabinet-turned-buffet.

That kind of treat is just the frosting on the cake, though. The kind of contentment that provides long-term team benefits requires more than carbohydrates. It isn’t easy to master good recruitment, retention practices, and respectful releases, but when you do, you’ll reap the benefits of an engaged, high-performing team.

Note: A huge thank-you to Julie Rogers, Senior Content Marketing and Editorial Manager on the creative team, for her contribution to this post.

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